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Shark Attack Avoidance Tips

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

We are going to the beach for the weekend. Is there really much danger of shark attacks from swimming in the ocean?


Scared of sharks

Dear Scared of sharks,

Although relatively rare, shark attacks can happen. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), worldwide there are 70-100 shark attacks annually resulting in about 5-15 deaths. However, as the ISAF points out, not all shark attacks are reported. Fatalities are rare, for example, in 2007 in the United States, there were 50 attacks, none fatal. Thirty-two of the 50 attacks were off the coast of Florida, and the next highest was seven from Hawaii (ISAF, 2007).

If attacked by a shark, the ISAF recommends hitting the shark hard on the nose with an inanimate object. If the shark bites, then claw the eyes and gills.

However, to avoid the possibility of a shark attack, precautions can be taken. In brief below are some tips to reduce the risk of shark encounter from George H. Burgess, director of the ISAF.

12 Tips to Reduce the Risk of a Shark Encounter:

1. Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.

2. Do not wander too far from shore - this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.

3. Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.

4. Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating - a shark's olfactory ability is acute.

5. Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.

6. Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.

7. Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks - both often eat the same food items.

8. Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing - sharks see contrast particularly well.

9. Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.

10. Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs - these are favorite hangouts for sharks.

11. Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!

12. Avoid inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide. Areas with steep dropoffs are also likely attack sites. Sharks congregate there because their natural food items also congregate in these areas.

The ISAF is located at the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History. For more information, see the ISAF website at